UK Release Date: 19th January 2018
Runtime: 116 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Jesse Plemons, Sarah Paulson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Brie, Bradley Whitford, Matthew Rhys, Zach Woods
Synopsis: The team at the Washington Post must decide whether to fly in the face of government pressure and publish confidential government information.
Last time Steven Spielberg worked on two projects simultaneously, those two movies were blockbuster classic Jurassic Park and Oscar-winning drama Schindler’s List. With that in mind, it clearly takes something special for Spielberg to take on this level of workload. The director was knee-deep in work on Ready Player One when he opted to take on journalism drama The Post in February 2017. The fact it’s arriving, fully-formed and utterly gripping, on cinema screens less than a year later to acclaim and awards tells us two things: firstly that this is an urgent, important story and, secondly, Steven Spielberg is an awe-inspiring filmmaking machine.
The Post chronicles the journalistic investigation and legal wrangling surrounding the leak of the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) becomes suspicious when a reporter at the rival New York Times hasn’t had a story in months. He is proved right when the Times reveals a huge dump of secrets about government lies around the Vietnam War. The Times is blocked in court from publishing any more revelations, but Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) soon obtains the documents, creating a difficult decision for Post publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep).
This is a film that benefits from the urgency of its subject matter. When the central characters gather in Hanks’s character’s home for a third act of frantic speed-reading of documents and hammering at typewriters, it’s difficult not to spot parallels between the story and the breakneck pace of Spielberg’s filmmaking process. Unfortunately, this breakneck pace takes a while to whir into action, as the film feels the need to pile on the context in the first act so as to help those without familiarity with the history. There must have been a better road here than slabs of rather leaden exposition.
Spielberg lights a fire under the movie, though, when the meat and potatoes of its story comes into play – the decision of the Post’s proprietor as to whether or not to publish. It’s here that the pace intensifies and the true urgency of the story moves forward. The rather obvious reverence for the idealistic purpose of the fourth estate is delivered in rather broad strokes, lacking the subtle analysis of the process that propelled Spotlight to Oscars glory. At any other time, this could’ve sunk the film, but journalistic idealism feels more relevant in the modern landscape than it has before.
Much of this brash idealism comes courtesy of Tom Hanks, who delivers a compelling and righteous performance as Ben Bradlee. He’s a man driven by the fire of reportage, oblivious to the practical concerns that dominate the thinking of Jesse Plemons‘s legal adviser and Bradley Whitford‘s paranoid money man. This is where Meryl Streep thrives as a conflicted midpoint, bringing real gravitas to a woman who could easily have been a caricature. In the hands of Streep, though, it’s easy to believe Katharine as a woman who knows her own mind and is decisive when called upon, but is intelligent enough to admit she isn’t always 100% certain of everything she does.
At a relatively lean running time of less than two hours, The Post hums with energy. When the story moves to Bradlee’s home, it’s a blitz of paper trails and tough decisions. Spielberg’s camera never sits still in order to watch from the corner. He’s right in the midst of everything. It’s in these scenes that this becomes a special movie and it becomes clear that only a director as accomplished as Spielberg could put together something that turns men in suits reading into a compelling set piece.
The Post is a film with a real engine at its heart, whirring with the kinetic energy it needs to tell this story in a cinematically compelling way. Spielberg’s almost fetishistic love of journalism comes to the fore in climactic scenes showcasing the operation of a printing press in minute, fascinated detail – complete with a room-shaking nod to Spielberg’s rampaging dino past. For those with a more sceptical viewpoint on the power of the press, it’s easy to see how the film could be exhausting but, for those on board with its message, this is a hell of a story – told by nothing short of a Cinematic Holy Trinity in the shape of Streep, Hanks and Spielberg.
Pop or Poop?
It’s more than a little heavy-handed in its messaging, but The Post makes up for its missteps with a pure adrenaline shot of urgency. The central performances, from a pair of cinematic legends, are utterly brilliant and Spielberg marshalls an enviable ensemble in support.
Spielberg turns the newsroom into a hive of throbbing energy, culminating in a smattering of moral bravado that feels immensely relevant in the world of fake news and the White House’s war on… well, everyone.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.